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Critics call for ‘robust’ oversight of CBSA following CBC reports on staff misconduct

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Advocacy groups are again calling for « robust, independent and external oversight » of the country’s border service following reporting by CBC News on misconduct at the Canada Border Services Agency.

CBC News recently reported that the agency investigated around 1,200 allegations of staff misconduct between January 2016 and the middle of 2018. Alleged offences recorded in the records released to CBC News include sexual assault, criminal association and harassment.

« We were not surprised, » said Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. « My main reaction was, this just makes [it] even clearer why there needs to be independent oversight for this agency. »

The BCCLA is one of three groups behind a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale asking when the government will introduce CBSA oversight legislation. The presidents of the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers also signed the letter.

The CBSA’s sweeping powers include the right to search travellers, use firearms and conduct deportations. It’s the only major federal law enforcement agency without external oversight of employee conduct.

The groups’ letter also cited a recent CBC News report that said the agency had lost a USB key containing a refugee claimant’s personal information.

« We have had our own experiences of bringing very serious complaints to the CBSA, and they go nowhere, because there is no independent accountability measure, » said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The groups call in the letter for an oversight body that can « investigate complaints » and « conduct proactive assessments of CBSA policies and practices. »

Dench said the oversight agency also should be able to hear complaints from third parties, such as non-government organizations.

« Often, we are in a position to say, ‘Look, we’ve seen a pattern of disturbing behaviour, or we have heard from somebody who’s not in a position to complain themselves,' » she said.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale, sent CBC News a statement Thursday that was identical in some respects to a statement the department issued last month.

« CBSA officers processed 95 million travellers in 2017, and only a very small number of these interactions led to a formal complaint, » Bardsley said in an email.

Bardsley said in a statement last month that the government was « working on separate legislation to create an appropriate mechanism to review CBSA officer conduct and conditions, and handle specific complaints. »

But the government’s window to introduce legislation is closing, with a general election due this fall.

« The CBSA … does not have independent review of officer conduct, and that is a gap that definitely needs to be addressed, » Goodale told a Senate committee in 2016.

Following the recent CBC News story, Goodale said the government is preparing legislation that would create « another unit … that looks specifically at the issues of officer conduct or incident investigation.

« We continue to work at it as rapidly as we can. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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